Episode 226: Brett Valicoff

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Brett Valicoff, President of Valicoff Fruit, a farm started by his great grandfather over one hundred years ago, certainly knows the complexities that go into growing apples and tree fruits. Ever wonder where some of the unique and new apple varieties are coming from? Hint: it has nothing to do with genetic modification or engineering, instead, a primitive process that’s touched by human hands as little as possible.

Valicoff’s great grandfather, an immigrant from Bulgaria, started the farm after traveling from Ellis Island to Washington while working on the railroads, settling into the very fertile Yakima Valley. Yakima Valley is quite well known for their hops, world-renowned apples, and wine grapes, and although it’s a high desert, most of the water comes from irrigation canals that flow snowfall from the mountain ranges into the deep valleys. This makes the soil extremely fertile and ideal for growing. Valicoff is a “vertically integrated” company that’s positioned themselves well as a stakeholder in the food supply system. By diversifying what they grow as much as possible, Valicoff has the ability to generate a consistent, good return year-after-year and invest it back into the business. If a certain commodity isn’t performing well one year, another one of their commodities will, however this makes for deep risk taking in future forecasting what a consumer is going to be interested in buying in the next five to seven years time. 

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Why five to seven years? Apple and fruit trees have a unique growing process that’s nothing like row crops. Tree fruit take about two years of preparation time before they’re ready to be planted thanks to something called grafting. After grafting and planting, you have to train the tree for another two to four years before you can start picking, with a maximum yield not happening for up to seven years.

Ever wonder where the new, unique varieties of apples are coming from? Even though it’s easy to assume genetic modification has something to do with it, for Valicoff Fruit it’s the exact opposite. They use tree grafting, an ancient horticultural practice that adds one plant’s tissue to another, helping two plants grow into one.

Each tree is just a “root stock” (established root) and once a root stock is big enough to graft, farmers will, very similar to conceiving and having a child, when farmers graft trees, they will cut off a “scion” of the tree (the part of the stem with buds) and cut off a bud. They’ll make a notch in the root of another tree, insert the first bud into the notch, cover it completely so air is kept out, and then nature takes over to create delicious fruit varieties we haven’t ever tasted before!

“This looks like such a primitive way to change over an entire orchard or variety of apples, but it works.” Lori Taylor (16:35-16:44)

Nothing is more old fashioned or primitive than tree grafting, and when you come across a new apple variety, it was most likely created from this. Even more interesting, farmers will use seeds from tree grafting and often get 50 or 60 different looking and tasting apples from the same combination. They then have to decide which variety will grow the best and have a flavor consumers will love. If you ever have decision fatigue about all the new apple varieties, just do a quick internet search and find out what flavor and texture you can expect. Check out Valicoff Fruit’s website at https://www.valicofffarms.com/ to discover the 13 varieties of delicious apples they grow, along with other tree fruit, vegetables, flowers and more! 


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About Lori

Lori Taylor is the Founder & CEO of The Produce Moms. For ten years she sold fresh produce to over 300 grocery stores throughout the United States, and today she is fully focused on working with the produce supply chain, media, and government to increase fresh produce access & consumption in the US and around the globe. Connect with Lori on LinkedIn.

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